in Features | 09 SEP 98
Featured in
Issue 42

Cut Out and Keep

Simon Periton

in Features | 09 SEP 98

It's a doll completely made of socks

It's a cover for a tissue box

It's a clothespin duck and a Fun Fur cat

And a crazy yarn and beer can hat

Earth to grandma

What the hell is that?

- Ass Ponys, 'Earth to Grandma' (1994)

Simon Periton's pretty paper doilies, fluttery Chinese lanterns and paper garlands strike a balance between dispensable luxuries and art activities, free time and work. Gone are the once obvious cultural critiques so easily attached to this strain of vocational craft when housed within the safety of the art world: Periton and his similarly minded American colleagues - Jim Hodges, Terri Friedman, Bill Davenport, Mindy Rose Schwartz and Tom Friedman - no longer need permission from the politics of decoration, appropriation, women's issues and kitsch to employ silk flowers, toothpicks, cut paper, felt and polystyrene. The propensity for aesthetic behaviour alone has replaced their drive for critical examination.

And without the privilege of ideology, expertise, or material, the dimensionality of art activity has gained a new honest entrée into the vernacular of the everyday; a geography previously relegated to eccentric aunts and grandmas who dabble in tasteless tabletop craft projects and home-made holiday decorations. Instead of bringing craft to the gallery, Periton's doilies bring the discussion of aesthetic experience into the domain of craft, and of free time at home.

By cutting from large paper wall doilies Anarchy A's, barbed wire, camouflage, targets and hooded gunmen silhouettes, Periton parallels our spindly, if well-intentioned political interests: human rights abuses, the environment, and anti-racism issues. He juxtaposes these dernier cri causes with other graphic influences - the Sex Pistols, Aubrey Beardsley, Arts and Craft furniture and Powell and Pressberger films - suggesting that ultimately, the use of these diverse signs has little political or cultural impact. As far as imagery goes, he has struck a reciprocal bargain of indifference with the viewer, redirecting attention instead to the fleeting elegance of his material - paper - and its formal composure and sincere, complex execution. Periton's is a project of cutting away, trimming and snipping at the whole to amplify the intrinsic beauty of work.

The black cut-out titled Radiant Anarchy Doily (1997) is thin, beautiful and exact. The concentric rings of 'A's which comprise its doily pattern have as much revolutionary promise as a capital A inked out on the back of a teenager's notebook, suggesting neither a spoof nor a call to arms. But when the doilies become enormous like Queen Victoria (1997), it becomes difficult not to observe an ever-so-slight jab at the queen of cut paper herself. While Kara Walker constructs a panoramic theatre in which to reenact history's perversions, Periton exercises the real perversions that riddle our immediate identity, rather than ironically reworking the past.

This renewed interest in handicrafts corresponds to a renaissance in other forms of activities. A fresh obsession with gardening, a seemingly infinite number of self-published zines - even rave culture all negotiate various degrees of self-expression and community in a digital age. These new types of activities have gained momentum because of the ability of the participant to get lost in the experience. Sensuous, physical activities, they help to redefine social interaction and private space. Their relationship to technology varies: from techno culture's utter dependence on it to create timeless, de-localised virtual environments to hobbyists' and gardeners' on-line search for exotic seeds or materials, today's new activities are less defined by current technology than by its ramifications on the structure of daily life.

Craft lost its integrity when it separated itself from work. The hobby - craft's half cousin - borne from the excess of leisure time and our need for aesthetic behaviour, had as much virtue in 20th century art practice as Jell-O. But because of artists like Periton, the distinctions between hobby and art practice, the studio and the garage are no longer as important as controlling the acceleration of daily life and enrolling in an activity that is guaranteed to bring confidence, beauty and self-esteem.